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SCOTUS: California churches can meet indoors

Saturday, February 6, 2021, 8:25 am | Randy Thomasson

If you know your Constitution, you already know the First Amendment can’t be canceled by “health concerns.” And now the U.S. Supreme Court agrees California churches can’t be prohibited from meeting indoors!

Here’s the news and my brief analysis:

Friday, February 5, just before 8 p.m. PST, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in response to cases from two California churches (South Bay Pentecostal Church in Chula Vista and Harvest Rock Church in Pasadena).

The bottom line is six of the nine justices agreed that nowhere in California can government authorities prohibit houses of faith from holding indoor services.

As Politico reported: “The court blocked the prohibition on indoor worship services in the most hardly hit areas, but allowed some limitations based on capacity percentages to stay in place as well as a prohibition on singing and chanting during indoor services.”

Highlighting the positive, this means throughout California (from Purple Zone or “better”), no longer can cities and counties fine pastors or churches for holding indoor meetings. This decision provides real relief for oppressed pastors, such as Rob McCoy in Ventura County, Ché Ahn in Los Angeles County, Mike McClure in Santa Clara County, and other bold pastors, who have suffered tyrannical fines and lawsuits just for obeying the New Testament exhortation about “not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together.”

In response to this ruling, I urge every pastor who’s been reluctant to hold indoor meetings — go with the Bible, the First Amendment, and now the U.S. Supreme Court, and open your doors for meetings!

The U.S. Supreme Court split three ways — basically three constitutionalists on this issue (Thomas, Gorsuch, and Alito), three in the mushy middle (Barrett, Kavanaugh, and Roberts), and three non-constitutionalists (Breyer, Kagan, Sotomayor). But the Republican president’s nominees on the high court agreed there’s no justification for government’s zero tolerance for indoor church meetings. And more arguments about singing and full capacity will continued to be argued in federal court in California.

Here is the court’s opinion and its summary paragraph, which is a bit technical. The point is the first sentence, stating that the respondents (Gavin Newsom, Xavier Becerra, etc.) are enjoined (stopped) from prohibiting “indoor worship services”:

“Respondents are enjoined from enforcing the Blueprint’s Tier 1 prohibition on indoor worship services against the applicants pending disposition of the petition for a writ of certiorari. The application is denied with respect to the percentage capacity limitations, and respondents are not enjoined from imposing a 25% capacity limitation on indoor worship services in Tier 1. The application is denied with respect to the prohibition on singing and chanting during indoor services. This order is without prejudice to the applicants presenting new evidence to the District Court that the State is not applying the percentage capacity limitations or the prohibition on singing and chanting in a generally applicable manner.”

Here are reports on the court’s ruling by Liberty Counsel and SCOTUSblog.

It’s worth reading the opinion of Neil Gorsuch:

Statement of JUSTICE GORSUCH, with whom JUSTICE THOMAS and JUSTICE ALITO join.

Often, courts addressing First Amendment free exercise challenges face difficult questions about whether a law reflects “‘subtle departures from neutrality,’” “‘religious gerrymander[ing],’” or “impermissible targeting” of religion. Church of Lukumi Babalu Aye, Inc. v. Hialeah, 508 U.S. 520, 534–535 (1993). But not here. Since the arrival of COVID–19, California has openly imposed more stringent regulations on religious institutions than on many businesses. The State’s spreadsheet summarizing its pandemic rules even assigns places of worship their own row. See App. to Emergency Application for Writ of Injunction, App. G–3. At “Tier 1,” applicable today in most of the State, California forbids any kind of indoor worship. Meanwhile, the State allows most retail operations to proceed indoors with 25% occupancy, and other businesses to operate at 50% occupancy or more. See ibid; see also _ F. 3d _, 2021 WL 222814, App. A (CA9, Jan. 22, 2021). Apparently, California is the only State in the country that has gone so far as to ban all indoor religious services. See Brief for Becket Fund for Religious Liberty as Amicus Curiae, 5–6.

When a State so obviously targets religion for differential treatment, our job becomes that much clearer. As the Ninth Circuit recognized, regulations like these violate the First Amendment unless the State can show they are the least restrictive means of achieving a compelling government interest. _ F. 3d, at _, 2021 WL 222814, *9.

In cases implicating this form of “strict scrutiny,” courts nearly always face an individual’s claim of constitutional right pitted against the government’s claim of special expertise in a matter of high importance involving public health or safety. It has never been enough for the State to insist on deference or demand that individual rights give way to collective interests. Of course we are not scientists, but neither may we abandon the field when government officials with experts in tow seek to infringe a constitutionally protected liberty. The whole point of strict scrutiny is to test the government’s assertions, and our precedents make plain that it has always been a demanding and rarely satisfied standard. See Lukumi, 508 U. S., at 546. Even in times of crisis—perhaps especially in times of crisis—we have a duty to hold governments to the Constitution.

Still, California says it can thread the needle. It insists that religious worship is so different that it demands especially onerous regulation. The State offers essentially four reasons why: It says that religious exercises involve (1) large numbers of people mixing from different households; (2) in close physical proximity; (3) for extended periods; (4) with singing.

No one before us disputes that factors like these may increase the risk of transmitting COVID–19. And no one need doubt that the State has a compelling interest in reducing that risk. This Court certainly is not downplaying the suffering many have experienced in this pandemic. But California errs to the extent it suggests its four factors are always present in worship, or always absent from the other secular activities its regulations allow. Nor has California sought to explain why it cannot address its legitimate concerns with rules short of a total ban. Each of the State’s shortcomings are telltale signs this Court has long used to identify laws that fail strict scrutiny. See, e.g., First Nat. Bank of Boston v. Bellotti, 435 U. S. 765, 793 (1978) (The State’s proffered “purpose is belied, however, by the provisions of the statute, which are both underinclusive and overinclusive.”).

Consider California’s arguments in turn. The State presumes that worship inherently involves a large number of people. Never mind that scores might pack into train stations or wait in long checkout lines in the businesses the State allows to remain open. Never mind, too, that some worshippers may seek only to pray in solitude, go to confession, or study in small groups. See Harvest Rock Church, Inc. v. Newsom, App. to Emergency Application for Writ of Injunction, No. 20A137, Exh. A, No. 20–56357, p. 4, n. 1 (CA9, Jan. 25, 2021) (O’Scannlain, J., specially concurring). Nor does California explain why the less restrictive option of limiting the number of people who may gather at one time is insufficient for houses of worship, even though it has found that answer adequate for so many stores and businesses.

Next, the State tells us that worshippers are sure to seek close physical interactions. It touts its mild climate, too, suggesting that worshippers might enjoy more space outdoors. Yet, California is not as concerned with the close physical proximity of hairstylists or manicurists to their customers, whom they touch and remain near for extended periods. The State does not force them or retailers to do all their business in parking lots and parks. And California allows people to sit in relatively close proximity inside buses too. Nor, again, does California explain why the narrower options it thinks adequate in many secular settings—such as social distancing requirements, masks, cleaning, plexiglass barriers, and the like—cannot suffice here. Especially when those measures are in routine use in religious services across the country today.

California worries that worship brings people together for too much time. Yet, California does not limit its citizens to running in and out of other establishments; no one is barred from lingering in shopping malls, salons, or bus terminals. Nor, yet again, has California explained why more narrowly tailored options, like a reasonable limit on the length of indoor religious gatherings, would fail to meet its concerns.

When it comes to each of the first three factors, California singles out religion for worse treatment than many secular activities. At the same time, the State fails to explain why narrower options it finds sufficient in secular contexts do not satisfy its legitimate interests. Recently, this Court made it abundantly clear that edicts like California’s fail strict scrutiny and violate the Constitution. See Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn v. Cuomo, ante, at _ (per curiam). Today’s order should have been needless; the lower
courts in these cases should have followed the extensive guidance this Court already gave.1

1 While today’s case concerns the total ban on indoor worship found in “Tier 1,” nothing in our order precludes future challenges to the other disparate occupancy caps applicable to places of worship, particularly in “Tiers” 2 through 4. See App. to Emergency Application for Writ of Injunction, App. G–3.

If I have a quibble with the Court’s order, it is with how it addresses California’s final factor, singing. While the Court’s order requires California to allow churches to open, it also permits California to enforce, for now, a categorical ban on singing during services. This much might seem understandable. California has sensibly expressed concern that singing may be a particularly potent way to transmit the disease, and it has banned singing not just at indoor worship services, but at indoor private gatherings, schools, and restaurants too.

But, on further inspection, the singing ban may not be what it first appears. It seems California’s powerful entertainment industry has won an exemption.2 So, once more, we appear to have a State playing favorites during a pandemic, expending considerable effort to protect lucrative industries (casinos in Nevada; movie studios in California) while denying similar largesse to its faithful. See, e.g., Calvary Chapel Dayton Valley v. Sisolak, 591 U. S. , 2020) (GORSUCH, J., dissenting from denial of application for injunction relief).

2 There is some confusion over what rules actually apply to Hollywood but I would not allow the government officials who created California’s complex regime to benefit from its confusing nature. The district court did not address the singing ban, and the Ninth Circuit applied rational basis review because it was not convinced that anyone is permitted to sing indoors in California. _ F. 3d., _, 2021 WL 222814, *18 (CA9, Jan. 22, 2021). But the record suggests that music, film, and television studios are permitted to sing indoors. See Record in No. 20–56358, Doc. 18–4, p. 124 (CA9) (decl. of Screen Actors Guild General Counsel) (“Singing in larger groups [inside the studio] is permitted but only . . . with additional protections.”). California’s most recent edict prohibits singing at “private” “social situations” as well as “activities protected by the First Amendment to the extent they are not already permitted by other guidance.” California Dept. of Public Health, Guidance for the Prevention of COVID–19 Transmission for Gatherings (updated Nov. 13, 2020). No one seems to know exactly how far this language stretches, but it seems unlikely to apply to the entertainment industry, which has its own governing guidance. And California does not squarely deny as much here. See Brief in Opposition 51–52, and n. 52. As the Court recognizes, though, nothing in today’s order precludes future relief on this claim either.

Once more, too, the State has not explained how a total ban on religious singing is narrowly tailored to its legitimate public health concerns. Even if a full congregation singing hymns is too risky, California does not explain why even a single masked cantor cannot lead worship behind a mask and a plexiglass shield. Or why even a lone muezzin may not sing the call to prayer from a remote location inside a mosque as worshippers file in. The Ninth Circuit sought to defend California’s uneven regime by observing that the entertainment industry has adopted COVID–19 testing protocols. See _ F. 3d., at _, 2021 WL 222814, *13. But, if that’s true, it is unclear why California’s religious institutions might be denied a similar opportunity. Rather than assume such testing is infeasible, California might have at least offered the option, or sought to adapt it to churches. In my view, the State must do more to tailor the requirements of public health to the rights of its people. The Court’s order today at least allows the applicants to press
these points on remand.

No doubt, California will argue on remand, as it has before, that its prohibitions are merely temporary because vaccinations are underway. But the State’s “temporary” ban on indoor worship has been in place since August 2020, and applied routinely since March. California no longer asks its movie studios, malls, and manicurists to wait. And one could be forgiven for doubting its asserted timeline. Government actors have been moving the goalposts on pandemic-related sacrifices for months, adopting new benchmarks that always seem to put restoration of liberty just around the corner. As this crisis enters its second year— and hovers over a second Lent, a second Passover, and a second Ramadan—it is too late for the State to defend extreme measures with claims of temporary exigency, if it ever could. Drafting narrowly tailored regulations can be difficult. But if Hollywood may host a studio audience or film a singing competition while not a single soul may enter California’s churches, synagogues, and mosques, something has gone seriously awry.

The framers of our Constitution meant we were to have freedom of religion, not freedom from religion.
U.S. Christian evangelist Billy Graham

VIDEO: May 24, 2020 Los Angeles lockdown protest with Dennis Prager

Monday, May 25, 2020, 7:24 pm | Randy Thomasson

The lunacy and harm of ‘LGBTIQ+ pride’

Monday, July 1, 2019, 9:10 am | Randy Thomasson

When you see national companies promoting “LGBT” or “LGBTQ” or “LGBTIQ” or “LGBTIQA+” “Pride” — and hijacking Creator God’s rainbow in the process — you should question it and put it to the test.

Because no one should be proud to trample what’s good, right, and true; or lead astray vulnerable children; or harm people’s health; or unfairly discriminate against your God-given rights. 

And it’s categorically unkind to do bad to others, by pushing what’s bad for a person, bad for children and families, and bad for our culture, nation, and world. To be kind is to give God’s goodness to others, with standards that emanate from the Bible. But pushing bad consequences upon people is always bad, no matter the deceptive or delusional smiles of the pushers.

Therefore, Starbucks, Target, and other national or local businesses pushing “LGBTQ Pride” are being unkind and spreading false information, which is neither something they should be proud of, nor should it motivate you to spend your dollars at their establishments.

Q: Are homosexuality, bisexuality, and transsexuality true or false?
A: They are false.

Both science and the Word of God agree there’s no such thing as a “gay gene” — no biological basis to “LGBTIQ” whatsoever. It’s a delusional lie of the establishment to claim there’s any kind of sexual intercourse beyond man-woman sexual intercourse, or to claim there’s more than the two sexes of male and female. For they just don’t exist.

Homosexual researcher Simon LeVay, on his search for the “gay gene”:
“It’s important to stress what I didn’t find … I did not prove that homosexuality is genetic, or find a genetic cause for being gay. I didn’t show that gay men are ‘born that way,’ the most common mistake people make in interpreting my work. Nor did I locate a gay center in the brain.”
Source: Interview with Simon LeVay, “Sex and the Brain,” Discover Magazine, March 1994

American Psychological Association backtracks on claim of “gay gene”:
A publication from the American Psychological Association includes an admission that there is no “gay” gene, according to a doctor who has written about the issue on the website of National Association for Research & Therapy of Homosexuality.

A. Dean Byrd, the past president of NARTH, confirmed that the statement from the American Psychological Association came in a brochure that updates what the APA has advocated for years.

Specifically, in a brochure that first came out about 1998, the APA stated: “There is considerable recent evidence to suggest that biology, including genetic or inborn hormonal factors, play a significant role in a person’s sexuality.”

However, in the update: a brochure now called, “Answers to Your Questions for a Better Understanding of Sexual Orientation & Homosexuality,” the APA’s position changed.

The new statement says:

“There is no consensus among scientists about the exact reasons that an individual develops a heterosexual, bisexual, gay or lesbian orientation. Although much research has examined the possible genetic, hormonal, developmental, social, and cultural influences on sexual orientation, no findings have emerged that permit scientists to conclude that sexual orientation is determined by any particular factor or factors. Many think that nature and nurture both play complex roles. …”

“Although there is no mention of the research that influenced this new position statement, it is clear that efforts to ‘prove’ that homosexuality is simply a biological fait accompli have failed,” Byrd wrote. “The activist researchers themselves have reluctantly reached that conclusion. There is no gay gene. There is no simple biological pathway to homosexuality.”
Source: ‘Gay’ gene claim suddenly vanishes, WND.com, May 12, 2009

And transsexuality? This is even more of a delusion, because using medical instruments to cut off healthy body parts, which you can’t get back, is obviously not natural. See SaveCalifornia.com’s Science of the Sexes.

Conclusion: Homosexuality, bisexuality, and transsexuality have no biological basis, so no one can legitimately claim they were “born that way” or “God made me this way” or they’re “being true” to themselves by engaging in these contrived identities and harmful behaviors. The vast bulk of evidence is that homosexuality, and transsexuality are caused by childhood traumas, which many homosexuals and transsexuals freely admit happened in their pasts. In addition, the continual adding of new behaviors is nonsensical.

Consider the latest acronym, “LGBTIQA+“, which is continually expanding into labeling more behaviors as “natural.” For if “love is love” (i.e. subjectively defined, meaning that anything one desires or wants sexually must be accepted), no one can any longer oppose “sex” with children, animals, and corpses. For if one claims one was “born” with these desires, and the public must accept these claims without a shred of evidence, opponents to these behaviors have to be labeled “prudish” or “____phobic.” Because all moral standards and scientific evidence have been discarded to society’s own peril. This is ludicrous and violates all objective standards of logic, evidence, and reason.

Q: Does homosexual, bisexual, or transsexual behavior threaten one’s health?
A: Yes


The prevalence of sexually transmitted diseases (syphilis, gonorrhea, chlamydia, HPV, Hepatitis A, B and C) are higher among homosexuals. And CDC’s own statistics show how HIV/AIDS is nearly exclusively a homosexual disease. 

At least 63% and as much as 91% of HIV/AIDS infections transmitted by “male-to-male sexual contact”
Approximately 1.1 million persons in the United States are living with HIV infection [1]. In 2010, the estimated number of new HIV infections was 47,500: of those, 63% were attributed to male-to-male sexual contact, 25% to heterosexual contact, 8% to injection drug use, and 3% to male-to-male sexual contact and injection drug use [2] [Note: According to this CDC report, “All the participants had at least 1 male sex partner,” including those males who “self-identified as heterosexual”]
CDC, HIV Surveillance Special Report: Men Who Have Sex with Men, 20 U.S. Cities, 2011

In addition, biological men who delusionally think they’re women (the establishment calls them “transgender women) have an HIV infection rate nearly 50 times higher than other adults. Is this behavior healthy and worth promoting, or unhealthy and worth discouraging?

Homosexuals also experience higher rates of cancer and lower overall health as a cancer survivors:

Link between sexual orientation and cancer
“Homosexual men were found to be 1.9 times more likely to self-report a cancer diagnosis than were heterosexual men … Although homosexual women did not have a higher incidence of cancer, these women did report lower overall health as cancer survivors compared to heterosexual women.”

Prostate cancer survival may be especially tough on gay men

Conclusion: From a straightforward health perspective, homosexuality, bisexuality, and transsexuality invite sexually transmitted diseases, as well as higher cancer rates. As a matter of public health, these sexual behaviors should be discouraged.

Q: Does the “LGBTIQ+” political agenda trample your constitutional rights?
A: Yes.

In the Constitution of the United States of America, the First Amendment guarantees you freedom of religion, freedom of speech (and freedom of association, which emanates from free speech).

And pre-Constitutional rights for your enjoyment include parental rights and property rights (ownership rights, contract rights, etc.).

Yet time and time again, laws have been made and rulings handed down, that permit the homosexual/transsexual agenda to trample property and business owners, parental rights, religious freedom, and even freedom of speech and association.

But homosexuality, bisexuality, and transsexuality aren’t in the U.S. Constitution. And where the 5th and 14th Amendments mention the important individual rights of “life, liberty, or property,” the legislative and historical records clearly show that “liberty” means protection from being imprisoned or physically restrained (think a jail cell, or house arrest, or wooden stocks) without due process of law. Therefore, “liberty” did not and does not mean the power to redefine marriage or to trample other people’s constitutional rights or to do whatever you want.

Conclusion: A clear reading of the U.S. Constitution and its legislative and historical records shows us a list of guaranteed rights for individual citizens in the U.S. states. Nowhere in the Constitution are “coupleship” rights or the “rights” of homosexuality, bisexuality, transsexuality or other behaviors. “Gay rights” and “LGBT rights” are made up and used by unconstitutional politicians and judges to squash the constitutional rights of those who cannot support the “LGBT” agenda in good conscience. Furthermore, the only ways to amend the U.S. Constitution is by a two-thirds vote of Congress and three-fifths vote of the individual States, or by a Constitutional Convention.

Q: Does homosexuality, bisexuality, or transsexuality qualify as a “civil right” or “protected class”?
A: No.


To be a “civil right,” the identifying physical characteristic of a “protected class” must be inborn (existing from birth) or an admitted handicap.

The U.S. government’s “protected class” definition is as follows:

“The groups protected from the employment discrimination by law. These groups include men and women on the basis of sex; any group which shares a common race, religion, color, or national origin; people over 40; and people with physical or mental handicaps. Every U.S. citizen is a member of some protected class, and is entitled to the benefits of EEO law. However, the EEO laws were passed to correct a history of unfavorable treatment of women and minority group members.”

It’s a fact that your inborn sex chromosomes (XX female or XY male), race, and age are physical characteristics that you cannot change. And physical or mental handicaps are declared impairments and weaknesses that are unchangeable unless there is healing and recovery.

Conclusion: Because homosexuality, bisexuality, and transsexuality neither have a biological basis nor are unchangeable (people have changed in and out of, and left behind former practices identified with “LGBTIQ,” etc.), these sexual behaviors cannot qualify as a “civil right” or a “protected class” on the same level as race, ethnicity, national origin, even physical disability. If permitted, then any behavior can eventually achieve “civil rights” status, dominating and trampling any reasonable dissent, religious value, or ownership right. This would produce a decidedly uncivilized — and very unsafe — culture.

Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil;
Who put darkness for light, and light for darkness;
Who put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!

Isaiah 5:20